Dec 17 2013, 7:52am CST | by IANS
"This discovery not only confirms the existence of Neanderthal burials in western Europe but also reveals a relatively sophisticated cognitive capacity to produce them," said William Rendu, the study's lead author and researcher at the Centre for International Research in the Humanities and Social Sciences (CIRHUS) in New York City.
"While we cannot know if this practice was part of a ritual or merely pragmatic, the discovery reduces the behavioural distance between them and us," he added.
The first discovery of a potential Neanderthal tomb occurred in 1908 at La Chapelle-aux-Saints in south-western France.
The well-preserved state of the 50,000-year-old bones at the site led researchers to suggest that Neanderthals buried their dead well before modern humans arrived in western Europe.
Beginning in 1999, Rendu and his collaborators began excavating seven other caves in the area. In this excavation, which concluded in 2012, the scientists found more Neanderthal remains -- two children and one adult -- along with the bones of bison and reindeer.
While they did not find tool marks or other evidence of digging where the initial skeleton was unearthed in 1908, geological analysis of the depression in which the remains were found suggests that it was not a natural feature of the cave floor, said the study.
"The relatively pristine nature of these 50,000-year-old remains implies that they were covered soon after death, strongly supporting our conclusion that Neanderthals in this part of Europe took steps to bury their dead," Rendu said.
These findings appeared in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
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